The Enneagram works great as a character creation tool because it focuses on why people do things instead of just what they do. Understanding what drives a character is important for an author to know. Characters are more realistic when they have desires, fears, and motivations.

In this blog series, I’ve been going through each number and pairing it with a Marvel hero. Today is all about Type Six, known as the Loyalist or the Guardian. And who better to define this type than Natasha Romanaff, a.k.a. Black Widow?

“He’ll die alone. As will you.”
“She’s not alone.”

—Proxima Midnight and Black Widow, Avengers: Infinity War

Motivations and Fears

Sixes like security, consistency, order, plans, and rules. They are good at predicting things that might go wrong and planning accordingly, though this can also make them overly-cautious and anxious. They worry over decisions they have to make, often losing confidence in their own judgement. Sixes have the ability to see both sides in every debate, which is one of the reasons they doubt themselves when they have to choose a side or make a decision. They are also the most loyal number of the Enneagram. They will stick to their people and their beliefs even when things get bad.

Sixes are motivated by the desire to be supported by others; this makes them feel secure and more sure of their decisions. Losing that support and security is their biggest fear.

As someone who often goes on missions alone, it seems counterintuitive that Natasha Romanoff is a Type Six. However, her desire to be part of something bigger is the reason she joined S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place. Her friendship with Clint Barton, the Avenger who recruited her into S.H.I.E.L.D., and her loyalty to the Avengers never waivers over the course of the MCU.

One of Natasha’s biggest moments of conflict is in Captain America: Civil War, when she has to make a choice between signing the Accords or siding with Cap. At first, she sides with Tony Stark and the Accords:

Natasha Romanoff: “Maybe Tony is right. If, we have one hand on the wheel that can still steer.”
Sam Wilson: “Aren’t you the same woman who told the government to kiss our ass a few years ago?”
Natasha Romanoff: “I’m just… monitoring. We have made some very public mistakes.”

Natasha is loyal to the government and afraid of going rogue because of her history as an assassin with the KGB. She has done some terrible things in the past and wants to make them right. She sides with Tony out of her loyalty to the organization and her desire to be kept accountable. Natasha wants to be monitored and held accountable so she does not have to make difficult decisions on her own.

It is when she is forced to physically fight Captain America and his team, her friends, that she begins to doubt her decision. Her loyalty to the people she cares about comes across as she is fighting Clint:

Natasha Romanoff: “We’re still friends, right?”
Clint Barton: “Depends on how hard you hit me.”

Natasha sets aside her desire for security and lets Cap go when she could have stopped him, even holding Black Panther back for him as he escapes with Bucky. She is just as loyal to her friends and cause as she ever was, but what she believes is right has changed.

If your main character is a Six, confronting them with difficult decisions that threaten their desire for security develops inner conflict. Force them to face their fears. Put them in chaotic situations where their desire for order and rules cannot be met. Putting a Six in a leadership role is also a great way to create conflict, because leaders have to make tricky decisions, often with conflicting advice. A Six in leadership may become anxious about the choices they have to make, especially when things aren’t black and white. 

Obstacles and Desires

These are descriptors commonly used to describe Sixes:

  • Reliable
  • Trustworthy
  • Hard-working
  • Suspicious
  • Rebellious
  • Defiant
  • Cautious

Use these traits to create inner conflict when the Six does not get what they want, which is to have security and support. When Sixes feel abandoned or do not know who to give their loyalty to, tension is imminent.

Since the Six’s deadly sin is fear, they often struggle with anxiety. In The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile describe anxiety as “a vague, free-floating sense of apprehension that arises in response to an unknown or potential threat that may never materialize… Sixes even experience elevated anxiety when life is going smoothly because they wonder what might come along and ruin it.”

Anxiety is often an obstacle that Sixes may never necessarily overcome, but learn to manage. Natasha has obviously learned to channel her anxiety into something useful: the ability to predict potential threats and guess opponent’s movements. This ability, combined with her loyalty, is why she is the perfect choice to manipulate Loki into giving her information in The Avengers. She is able to predict his plans when others might not be so subtle in their interrogation.

Stress and Security

When Sixes are stressed, they behave like unhealthy Threes. This means they may project confidence even though they are feeling out of control, doing anything to keep up an image of competency. Sometimes, they are so afraid of making mistakes that they avoid necessary risks or do nothing at all, which can lead to bad decisions.

In Avengers: Endgame, we see Natasha at her most stressed and dejected. She has taken over leadership of the Avengers when all seems lost, which takes its toll on her. She is particularly flustered because she has been cut off from Clint, who has gone rogue, and he has been a measure of security for her in the past. She does everything she can to keep up the team’s morale, but is failing, and feels the weight of that responsibility.

When Captain America comes to visit her and suggests it’s time for her to move on, she refuses:

Natasha Romanoff: “If I move on, who does this?”
Steve Rogers: “Maybe it doesn’t need to be done.”
Natasha Romanoff: “I used to have nothing. And then I got this. This job… this family. And I was… I was better because of it. And even though they’re gone… I’m still trying to be better.”

When an absurd time-travelling plan is presented to her, Natasha sets aside her fear of failure because she’s at the end of her options. She jumps headfirst into the plan to defeat Thanos, encouraging others to join and going after Clint to give him hope. 

She moves back into feeling secure as they recruit more Avengers and she has people supporting her again. Secure Sixes often behave like healthy Nines, feeling less anxious, more flexible, and empathetic. They start believing that things are going to be alright instead of worrying about making wrong choices. They are also content with themselves and supportive of others. They may even have a healing or calming influence on those around them.

Character Development

The Enneagram includes descriptions of what a type looks like at healthy, average, and unhealthy levels. There are nine levels of development (not to be confused with the nine different types of personalities)—one to three being the most healthy, four to six being average, and seven to nine being unhealthy. This progression is useful for writing fiction because it can help you plan character arcs.

Natasha was likely at an unhealthy level around eight or so when she was a KGB assassin. She is quite cold when we first meet her, but she gradually warms up to others as the movies progress, becoming more invested in the cause and her friends.

Healthy sixes often become dedicated to people or movements that they are passionate about, forming unbreakable relationships. They trust themselves and others. They are highly efficient as individuals and as part of a team, courageous leaders, and encouragers.

If you start with an Unhealthy Six and move towards positive development, you can achieve character growth by working through the Six’s anxiety. Bring them through an arc where they realize they can trust others instead of seeing them as threats, where they can trust themselves instead of doubting their own decisions.

If you decide your character is a Loyalist, I hope my thoughts on Enneagram Sixes and Black Widow help you in your character development. Use this tool to consider not just what they do, but why they do it. For further research, I recommend listening to The Liturgists podcast episodes 37 and 107-109.

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